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November 9, 2018

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No biased comments on sub judice matters: SC

No biased comments on sub judice matters: SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) has held that the Code of Conduct ensures that the freedom of speech and the right to information under articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution are protected, adding that the discussion on sub judice matters must be conducted in a manner which does not negatively affect another person’s fundamental right to be dealt with in accordance with the law under Article 4 of the Constitution and the right to fair trial and due process under Article 10A of the Constitution.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar issued a judgment in a suo moto case regarding discussion in TV talk shows on a sub judice matter. The court had issued a show-cause notice to News host Arshad Sharif for discussing sub judice matters on his talk show Power Play, aired in August in which an affidavit submitted by former President Asif Ali Zardari regarding his assets was discussed.

“Did Zardari submit a false affidavit in the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] case?" was among the questions raised and discussed during the programme. CJP Mian Saqaib Nisar during the course of hearing had questioned Arshad Sharif as to how could he discuss cases being heard in courts during his programme.

The CJP had recalled that the court had also advised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against inadvertently or intentionally defaming individuals who are subject to accountability inquiries. The judgment authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while setting guidelines held that all licencees should be sent a “notice/reminder of their basic ethics and objectives,standards and obligations under the Code of Conduct, particularly Clause 4(10) thereof, in that, editorial oversight should be observed prior to the airing of all programmes and any programme, the subject or content of which is found or deemed to be in violation of the Code of Conduct in its true letter and spirit, should not be aired by the licensee”.

The court further held that any discussion on a matter which is sub judice may be aired but only to the extent that it is to provide information to the public “which is objective in nature and not subjective, and no content, including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of such sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal, etc., shall be aired”.

The verdict ruled that content based on extracts of court proceedings, police records and other sources are allowed to the extent that they are “fair and correct, any news or discussions in programmes shall not be aired which are likely to jeopardize ongoing inquiries, investigations or trials”.

“In compliance with Clause 5 of the Code of Conduct, all licencees should strictly ensure that an effective delaying mechanism is in place for broadcasting live programmes to ensure stern compliance with the Code of Conduct and Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution,” says the judgment

“In compliance with Clause 17 of the Code of Conduct, the court held that an impartial and competent in-house Monitoring Committee shall be formed by each licensee, with intimation to Pemra which shall be duty bound to ensure compliance of the Code of Conduct”, the judgment noted.

With regards to the Monitoring Committee, the court directed “that licencees include (for each of its meetings) at least one practicing lawyer of at least 5 years or above practice, with adequate understanding of the law to advise the licensee regarding any potential violations of the Code of Conduct by programmes to be aired in the future”.

The verdict further held that in compliance with Clause 20 of the Code of Conduct, each licencee shall be required to hold regular trainings of its officers, employees, staff, anchors, representatives etc. with regards to ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct with the schedule and agenda of these regular trainings to be intimated to Pemra through the Monitoring Committee.

The verdict held that “if any licencee is found to have violated or failed to observe the Code of Conduct in its true letter and spirit, particularly Clause 4 of thereof, and/or Articles 4, 10A and 204 of the Constitution, strict and immediate action should be taken against such licensee in accordance with Section 33 of the Ordinance.

“The Supreme Court or any High Court retains the power to take cognizance of the matter and shall exercise its powers under Article 204 ibid where such Court is of the opinion that it is appropriate in the facts and circumstances of the case for it to do so”, says the judgment.

Meanwhile, the court accepted the unconditional and unqualified apology tendered by Arshid Sharif with a view that it has been tendered sincerely and he has expressed remorse and regret promising not to repeat such reckless and irresponsible behaviour in the future. The court however, also warned the anchor to be extremely careful in the future and accordingly disposed of the matter.

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